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In his 1989 essay “Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast” Tom Wolfe argues: “It was realism that created the ‘absorbing’ or ‘gripping’ quality that is peculiar to the novel, the quality that makes the reader feel that he has been pulled not only into the setting of the story but also into the minds and central nervous systems of the characters.” With this in mind, Wolfe called for a new “social novel.”

“Brothers” by Yu Hua pulls the reader not only into the minds and central nervous systems of Baldy Li and Song Gang (the brothers) but also into their digestive and reproductive systems. The novel is awash with blood, saliva, spit, urine, feces and bodily gases. The story begins in a public toilet and ends in ruminations on outer space — everything between seems to be included.

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